Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

How I Heard About It:  I got this book at one of our Scholastic Book Fairs this past school year.  I had a coupon that I got from a student.  While browsing the shelves for new titles I came across this one.  I actually got the one with the cover that I've included below.  I knew nothing of the book, but was intrigued by the cover and title.  

What It Is About:  This story takes the reader to the beautiful and magical place of Wonder Gap, Kentucky.  It is here that we meet Curley Hines.  Curley hasn't had the easiest life.  He first lost his dad to a coal mining accident.  Then his mother and brother perish in a different type of accident related to the mines.  He and his best friend Jules have grown up together enjoying their life in the hallow, a special tree, and a mountain they claim as their own.  When the mine gets a new owner, Curley and his grandfather wonder how this will change their life.  When the owner's son starts school, Curley isn't sure he is happy about it because of how it affects his friendship with Jules.  When the mine threatens the town and its surrounding area, the three classmates join forces to "Save Wonder".  

What I Thought Of It:  It is always risky to grab and buy a book that you know nothing about.  Sometimes it works and of course sometimes it doesn't.  I'm happy to report this "unknown" book worked quite well for me.  I truly enjoyed the story.  It had all the elements I want in a plot.  There were strong relationships, great life-lessons, and young people learning how to make a difference on the bigger world.  The author included some great WORDS that the grandfather would present to his grandson.  This got me thinking how I could do this in my own classroom.  On a small side-note, I actually prefer the cover that I have instead of what I think may be a new cover.  

Who Should Read It:  This is the perfect middle-grade novel.  I know that I will be sharing the book in some way during the upcoming school year.  It could be read by individuals in grades three, four, five, and/or six.  Saving Wonder would also make for a terrific read aloud.  There would be so many wonderful discussions that would come from Curley, Jules, and all the happens in the town of Wonder.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Monday, July 24, 2017

An Inside Look #27 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look - With Kate Messner 
(Author of The Exact Location of Home)

*This was a new feature I added to the blog during the summer of 2016.  It was a shot in the dark that it would work, but much to my surprise; it took off and over the last year I conducted 22 interviews with a variety of authors.  

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*I didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Kate for being the FIFTH author of the new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first TWENTY-SIXTH interviews…

*I received a copy of this novel through my #bookexpedition Twitter group.  I was quite excited to read it because I had heard such great things.  

*This book brought me an afternoon of complete pleasure.  The story was wonderful and it was such fun to revisit these characters 

*Here is a link to my review...

*Thank you Kate for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog.  

*Here are the responses she shared with me and I'm thrilled to share them with you...

The Exact Location of Home
by Kate Messner (Released September 12, 2017)

The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.
by Kate Messner (New Paperback cover released September 12, 2017)

How did you come to know Zig?
Zig is a character in my 2009 debut novel, THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. He’s Gianna’s best friend and by her side as she struggles to finish her leaf collection project and deals with her grandmother’s dementia. I hadn’t planned on a sequel or companion book for this novel, but I finished writing Gianna’s story, I still heard Zig’s voice in my head. So I started brainstorming, and THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME is the story of what happens to Zig in eighth grade, the year after the leaf project.

What do you think is Zig's most admirable quality?
Zig has a lot of qualities that I love. Among them are loyalty as a friend, creativity, and determination (sometimes to a fault!).

Is there anything you wish Zig would have changed or done differently in his story?
The lovely thing about this story is that I wrote my first draft back in 2009, even though it’s coming out now, in 2017. I’ve read and revised it so many times that this is one where I really don’t have any regrets. Zig’s story plays out just as I imagine it would if he were a real kid (and of course, he still feels that way to me!)

How did you research Zig and the circumstances he found himself in?
I used to belong to a church that offered temporary emergency housing in its basement, and obviously, I also did a lot of reading about homelessness and shelters and talked with a shelter director. But most of the Truth of Zig’s story comes from the students I taught in my fifteen years in a middle school, the readers I talk with when I visit schools and libraries, and the kids who write me letters. Zig’s story is many of their stories, too.

What do you think Zig can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?
I think when kids are experiencing something difficult in their lives – whether that’s a parental separation or temporary homelessness or a family member struggling with addiction – there tends to be a feeling of loneliness. There’s a sense that they’re the only ones going through this, so they feel different from everyone else and sometimes ashamed. Nothing could be further from the truth, though, and I think talking about issues like this helps to show kids they’re not alone, especially when it’s being experienced by a beloved character like Zig. (In the mail I get from kids about THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, so many identify Zig as their favorite!)

Do you and Zig share any similarities?
Only that we both have big hearts and sometimes struggle asking for help when we need it. Zig’s other personality traits – particularly his love of electronics – were inspired by my son. He was in middle school when I was writing this book but is now all grown up, studying electrical engineering and interning at Apple at the moment. But when he was younger, he was always messing around with things like broken toasters and rigging up buzzers and alarms, just like Zig.

What was the hardest scene to write about Zig?
Well…without giving any spoilers, probably the water tower scene. When you love a character, it’s tough to let them fail, to let things not work out. But that’s also essential for characters to grow (and the rest of us, too).

Who do you think was Zig's biggest supporter and why?
Even though they were kept in the dark about his situation, I still think Gianna and Ruby were amazing friends to Zig throughout the story. Those are the kinds of loving, supportive friendships I always loved to see when I was teaching middle school.

Why do you think young children like Zig want to believe the best in an adult when the adult hasn’t shown much in return?
I don’t think that’s exclusive to kids at all. It’s human nature to want to believe the best about the people we love, even when the evidence shows otherwise. But I think for kids, being let down can feel especially difficult because your parents are the people who are supposed to be there, no matter what. It’s their job. That’s the rule. So when things fall apart, I think young people can feel especially lost.

What do you think Zig is doing at the present time? 
I can’t really answer this one for you. My characters exist in a sort of frozen-in-time world in my imagination, so I always picture Zig riding his bike to the park, skipping stones with Ruby and Gianna. Kids ask this question a lot. “What happens to Zig after the story ends?” And I always tell them the truth – that my story about Zig ended with the last page you turned. Anything past that is up to readers to imagine.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (7/24?17)

Thanks to Jen and Kellee for hosting this idea on their site.  Here is a link to their site...
Books I Read this Past Week...

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst

*Professional Book (5 STARS out of 5 Stars)

My Book Review

Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson

*Young-Adult Novel (3 STARS out of 5 Stars)

Tumble & Blue by Cassie Beasley

*Middle-Grade Novel (5 STARS out of 5 Stars)

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

*Novel Published for Adults (2 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

The Names They Gave Us by Every Lord

*Young-Adult Novel (3 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

Real Friends by Shannon Hale & LeUyen Pham

*Middle-Grade Graphic Novel (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

Chemistry by Weike Wang

*Novel Published for Adults (2 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

My Book Review

Some Writer!  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

*Middle-Grade Biography (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

Thornhill by Pam Smy

*Middle-Grade/Young-Adult Novel (5 STARS out of 5 Stars!)

Books I Will (continue to) Read this Week

Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop
by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

*My Professional Resource Book

You May Already Be a Winner by Ann Dee Ellis

*My Middle-Grade Novel (Audio)

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

*My Young-Adult Novel

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

*My Novel Published for Adults

Saving Wonder by Mary Knight

*My Middle-Grade Novel

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Chemistry by Weike Wang

How I Heard About It:  While browsing the "Cloud Library" app, I came across this title.  When I saw the title and cover, I remember reading about this book in a couple of different reviews.  I decided to download it and give it a try.  

What It Is About:  The narrator of the story does not have a name.  Actually most of the characters in the book don't have names.  The main character is a female Chinese American in graduate school to get her PHD in Chemistry.  She has worked her lifetime toward this goal.  When in a particular Chemistry class, she "freezes" and isn't quite sure what she is doing.  This is both on the literal level of that particular day, and on a major level considering her entire life.  She does have a boyfriend.  He is also studying chemistry and doing very well.  She is asked to leave the program and ends up quite lost.  She isn't sure what to do with her life or the direction it is going in.  The boyfriend, and her best friend, try to help as much as they can; but she doesn't make it easy on them.  There is also pressure from her Chinese parents that push her for greatness.  The narrator finds herself questioning both her professional and personal life and may end up losing everything, and everyone, that is important to her.  

What I Thought Of It:  The writing style of this book was quite different.  It was very sparse and hard to connect with.  I thought it was odd that none of the characters didn't have names.  I'm sure the author had a reason, but I couldn't figure it out.  The story bounced around from different time periods in the narrator's life.  This made it difficult to follow the story.  I'm a reader that needs to connect with both the story and characters.  I wasn't able to do that with this one.  Toward the middle and end of the book, I ended up doing what I call the "skim" and "scan".  

Who Should Read It:  I'm not sure who would enjoy this type of book.  I know there are readers out there that did like the book because there are five and four star reviews online.  It is definitely a quirky type story and I know there are readers out there for this book.  It just wasn't me.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  2 STARS out of 5 Stars

Real Friends by Shannon Hale

How I Heard About It:  This book has been in my TBR pile for awhile.  After hearing Shannon Hale speak at #NerdCampMI this July, I came home and moved the book to the top of the pile.  I didn't get to it as quickly as I would have liked, but this morning I grabbed it and read it in one sitting.  I can now see what all the "fuss" is about.  

What It Is About:  This graphic novel is a memoir type story about Shannon's elementary years.  Each section of the book focuses on the different years of her schooling.  Each year Shannon tries to make a new friend.  During the initial stages of the friendship things seem to be alright, but then something, or someone, changes it.  Each year of school brings different challenges that she must face.  Not only does Shannon have difficulties at school, but she also faces hardships at home with her parents and siblings.  On top of all this, she struggles with her own anxiety type behaviors.  It takes years, but Shannon does figure out who her "REAL" friends are and the ones she doesn't need in her life.  

What I Thought Of It:  It had been awhile since I had read a graphic novel.  Reading this one at the beginning of my day was the highlight.  I was reminded how much I loved graphic novels.  This one was especially good because the storyline is one that we can all relate to.  As I read, I kept thinking of students I've had in the past that would totally relate to Shannon's story.  Even though it is "autobiographical", there are so many elements that ALL readers would be able to relate to.  I'm so excited to "book talk" this one when we get back to school in the fall.  

Who Should Read It:  This graphic novel should be in all classrooms from grade two all the way up through middle-school.  Even though most of the characters are girls, I can see all children LOVING this book.  I know some of my Twitter pals are thinking of putting this on their Mock Newbery List.  After reading it, I can see why.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I went to a general session where Sarah Jessica Parker was the guest speaker.  She was going to announce the book club selection for "Book Central".  It was going to be the inaugural book club pick.  This was the title she announced.  I was lucky enough to receive a complimentary copy on the exhibit hall.  It was excited to start a novel that I heard the author and SJP discuss while on the ALA stage.  

What It Is About:  The character of JJ has just returned to his hometown in North Carolina.  He has returned to build the home he has always wanted.  JJ would also like to reconnect with his past "love" Ava.  Upon his return he is surprised to learn that Ava is now married to Henry.  They don't have a perfect marriage, but she is trying desperately to have a baby.  As JJ acclimates himself, both to the town and the townspeople, he realizes how different everything and everyone is.  Ava's mom, Sylvia, tries not to interfere in her life, but doesn't always find it easy to do.  She is drawn to a man that is spending time behind bars.  All of their lives are at a point where they must make decisions and move from the past and towards a future where there are no definite answers.  

What I Thought Of It:  I recall sitting in the audience at ALA with such excitement listening to Sarah Jessica Parker and Stephanie Powell Watts talk about the novel.  I was anxious to get a copy for myself and begin reading.  There are some novels I know I'm going to love from the start.  There are other novels that don't necessarily grab me right away, but I slowly begin to enjoy the story.  Then there are some stories that I struggle with right off the bat and continue to do so throughout the entire read.  That is what happened with this novel.  I just couldn't find my groove.  I struggled to find a pace where I was understanding and enjoying the plot.  I usually blame myself when this happens.  Novels that are a little more "high brow literature" sometimes propose a challenge for me.  The writing was beautiful and well done.  I just couldn't connect to the characters and/or plot.  

Who Should Read It:  I've seen (on reviews) that many readers have enjoyed the book and given it high ratings.  I think the book may appeal to the adult female reader more than a male.  I also think it is geared towards readers that enjoy a bit of a slower read that really develops the characters, setting, and plot in detail.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  2 STARS out of 5 Stars

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

How I Heard About It:  While at ALA in Chicago I saw Emery Lord signing her books in the exhibit hall.  I didn't stand in line for an autograph, but I did take notice of her titles and added them to my TBR list.  While looking through my "Cloud Library" app, I came across this title and downloaded it.  

What It Is About:  Lucy is pretty excited about her life.  Summer is about to begin.  She is a star on the swim team.  She has a great boyfriend.  Lucy and her parents will be spending time at their church camp which is an annual summer tradition.  All of these plans come to a screeching stop when she finds out her mother's cancer has returned.  Lucy was sure they were in the clear because of all the prayers and promises she made to God.  Life gets even more "off the rails" when her boyfriend decides to take a "pause" and her parents want her to attend a different camp instead of the family church camp.  Lucy isn't sure what she has done, but definitely feels like she is being punished.  Once she gets to camp, she realizes how different it is from the family camp she is use to.  She must get to know the other counselors and learn how to handle the campers.  What she wants most is to make sure her mother is going to be alright and finds it very difficult to do that from "across" the lake.  

What I Thought Of It:  For me the story started out quite strong.  I enjoyed getting to know Lucy, her friends, and her family members.  As the story progressed and she was at the new camp, getting to know life there, and adjust to her mother's news, the story stalled a bit for me.  It wasn't hard to keep reading, but I wouldn't describe it as a page turner; more me anyway.  Sometimes I struggle with young-adult stories because the story-line just doesn't grab me as much as I want it to.  This is especially true when the protagonist is a female.  I'm glad I read the story and think that Emery Lord has a strong and interesting writing style.  

Who Should Read It:  Lucy's story will appeal most to the female young-adult reader.  I think they will be able to relate to her, her relationships, and the feelings she experiences because of her mother's health.  Adult readers that enjoy a young-adult story with a female character going on a journey to find herself; will also enjoy this book.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  3 STARS out of 5 Stars

Disrupting Thinking by Kylene Beers & Robert Probst

How I Heard About It:  I'm trying to include more professional books as part of my daily summer reading.  I knew this was going to be the first book because of all the great reviews on Twitter and Facebook.  As I stated online when I finished, this text was a "game changer" for me.  

What It Is About:  This time around Kylene and Robert take their ideas to an another level.  The text contains ideas on how to engage our young readers and "disrupt" their thinking while reading.  The BHH (Book, Head, Heart) strategy was shared throughout the text.  Readers think about what the BOOK said, what their HEAD is thinking, and the effect the reading had on their HEART.  This is definitely a strategy I will be using with my fourth graders.  One major theme the authors discussed was how we want our readers to be changed after reading a text.  We want them to interact with the words on the page, what they know about the text, and how the text affected them.  Our goal is to create readers that go out into the world and make changes.  The writers share ideas on how to create engagement and relevance, encourage responsive and responsible reading, how to deepen conversation, and develop lifelong reading habits.  

What I Thought Of It:  I was blown away by this resource.  Once I started I could not stop reading.  I found myself highlighting so many lines while reading.  The message/theme was such an important one for all teachers to experience.  Our educational system has come a long way, but we have so much more ground to cover.  We must move forward, "disrupt" what we are currently doing, and change our practices for the better.  One element that I took most from the reading was to stress with my readers to think about how their thinking was "changed" while and after a particular reading.  There were so many ideas on how to truly have the reader "interact" with a text.  I will definitely be revisiting this book before I head back to the classroom in the fall.  

Who Should Read It:  I believe all teachers should read this book.  It would benefit a first year teacher and a teacher with 26 years under their belt; like myself.  I've already emailed me principal to share this title and suggest we get copies of our professional resource library.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

How I Heard About It:  Another title that came to me via #bookexpedition on Twitter.  This book has made the rounds over the last year and I was the final reader to get it in my hands.  

What It Is About:  I'm sure most of you have read this text and/or know about it.  It was a fascinating read as I knew very little about the life of E.B. White.  I not only found the story interesting, but all of the post-its that were left by previous readers.  It was almost as if I was reading two different stories.  The format of the book was incredible.  Melissa Sweet told the life story of E.B. White in text.  She also included some writings and letters that White wrote himself.  There were some beautiful and incredible illustrations, diagrams, and pictures on each and every page.  I was inthralled with the book and found myself spending quite a bit of time on each two-page spread.  What amazed me most was E.B. White's love for children and wanting to make sure he put his best writing into their hands.  

What I Thought Of It:  Last night I grabbed this book off my night-stand and was immediately drawn into the life of one of our most influential writers.  The format of this book was top-notch and laid out beautifully.  There was so much information on all pages.  I kept thinking how much young readers would enjoy this book.  After finishing the text I now want to go back and read his three most notable words of fiction.  I also want to put this book in my classroom library along side of the copies of his novels that I already house in my collection.  

Who Should Read It:  In my opinion, this biography should be read by middle-grade, young-adult, and adult readers.  It is beautifully done and tells a wonderful story of a boy, a man, and a talented writer.  I'm so glad that I finally had the opportunity to read it.  Happy Reading!  

Rating:  5 STARS out of 5 Stars